The Obama administration is expressing cautious optimism that the federal insurance exchange will operate more smoothly than it did last year when it opens for enrollment Nov. 15.
“We're really making sure the website works super well before the next open enrollment period,” President Barack Obama said at a news conference last week. “We're double- and triple-checking it.”
The administration has shortened the enrollment application for new users and has addressed problems in the identity verification system. But there are concerns that returning shoppers who switch plans for 2015 could end up getting double-enrolled and double-billed.
Joel Ario, a managing director at Manatt Health Solutions, said the new application process debuting this enrollment period is “the part I expect to go the best.” Most of the administration's website efforts for 2015 have gone into improving the consumer experience for first-time shoppers, he said.
But he worries for returning insurance shoppers, who will have to confront the old version of HealthCare.gov. If a substantial portion return—with many of them comparison shopping or updating their financial information—it could strain the system, despite the administration's efforts to upgrade the site's capabilities by hiring Amazon Web Services.
The CMS briefly took down the test log-in system Nov. 4. A CMS spokesman confirmed the brief take-down, but said that “things do happen. No website is ever up 100%. We are in the mode of testing and re-testing to find these things.” The CMS chose to replace log-in systems for the next enrollment period, switching from one built by Optum, called the EIDM, to a so-called “scalable log-in system.”
Web-based insurance brokers working with HealthCare.gov, including eHealth, are unhappy that they will have to redirect consumers who shop with them for exchange plans. If the consumer chooses a plan that's offered only on the public insurance exchange, they have to go to the exchange website and then be directed back to the Web broker's site. During a second-quarter earnings call this year, Gary Lauer, CEO of eHealth, called the process “really pretty archaic.”
Some exchange consumers may be gun-shy from 2013. A survey of 558 people conducted by Bankrate.com found that 51% of last year's customers don't plan to shop on an exchange this year.